2003: He Xiuling, Ma Qingxui, Li Juhua and Dai Donggui

On this date in 2003, four women all condemned for drug offenses were among a group executed by shooting at Wuhan, in central China. This mass execution (conducted in secret but preceded by a humiliating public trial) was scheduled around the June 26 International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. China has a very long history of looking askance at drug-dealing, and it usually uses the prelude to June 26 for some pointed, well-publicized executions.

In 2003, photographer Yan Yuhong spent 12 hours with this quartet of women on the eve and morning of their executions at Detention Center No. 1. Only years later did the photographs get out: a moving glimpse of ordinary people under the pall of death and the guards and prisoners around them, they made worldwide news in 2011. Apparently their distribution in 2003 was quashed on authorities’ concerns that they were a bit too moving for the big anti-drug message.

Select images follow; the entire series can be perused here or here, and in poignant timeline form here.

He Xiuling

He Xiuling is the most immediately recognizable among them, a pudgy 25-year-old who looks inordinately mirthful in many pictures, but sobs openly just before she is led away to be shot. Follow-up reporting paints the picture of a simple country girl lured by a boyfriend into being a drug mule. She was evidently led to believe, up until the last, that her sentence would be commuted: “I’ll still only be 40 when I’m free!”

Had she been spared, she would be 35 now.

She thought the white top made her look “too fat”, and a guard kindly provided a black one.

Several pictures how He Xiuling smiling and laughing. Here, she enjoys breakfast on the morning of the 25th. She has about four hours to live.

Weeping moments before her execution.

Ma Qingxui

The oldest of the women and seemingly the only one of the quartet who could be characterized as something more than a small-time mule, 49-year-old Ma Qingxui from Baokang county of Hubei province was on her fourth conviction for smuggling more than 8 lbs. of narcotics.

Dressed all in red, Ma Qingxui donates her clothes to another inmate.

Ma Qingxiu being escorted out of the detention center for the execution grounds at 7:21 a.m.

Li Juhua and Dai Donggui

The prisoners least seen in the series and those of whom the least has been reported in the west.

An ordinary (non-condemned) prisoner paints Li Juhua’s toenails on the morning of the latter’s execution.

She dictates her last will and testament to a fellow-prisoners.

On the evening of June 24th, Dai Donggui carefully folds the execution clothes a guard has purchased for her.

A last supper. Reportedly, McDonald’s food is routinely served at the facility for this occasion.

On this day..

4 thoughts on “2003: He Xiuling, Ma Qingxui, Li Juhua and Dai Donggui

  1. its 2020 now…this young lady did not deserve to be shot in the fucking head…the politicians, police, judges are the ones who should be shot…this story has always touched my heart…i look at her last pic of her crying, i wish i could grab her, all she wanted to do is live..she made a mistake because, she was used…may you rest in peace sweet lady, i really hope Jesus has you in his army for his return…you were taken my demons, but saved by Jesus…we will never forget you.

  2. Is there a way to correspond with the female guards at the time of He Xiuling’s execution? I just wonder if they were emotionally distraught after her execution. It seems like one of them in the pic right before she was shot looked uncomfortable. How do they feel afterwards? that’s what I would like to ask. I would not be surprised if He Xiuling’s spirit remained earthbound after that unwarranted execution. Poor girl. The chinese officials didn’t want those pics shown because they would illicit sympathy for her? so what’s so wrong about that? Cold hearted bastards.

  3. I remember this young woman’s case. Sad. She showed remorse for what she did and I think she was just naive. she was wanting to help her family out and being china, well. She was tricked into believing she would get a lighter sentence if she pleaded guilty instead those sorry, bloodthirsty sob’s gave her death. I’m not excusing what she did but she was hardly a hardened criminal. 15, 20 years would have been enough punishment for someone like her. I would have commuted her death sentence. They didn’t have to execute that poor girl.

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